MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Let’s begin by stipulating that the Miami Dolphins are 7-3, just beat a spirited Las Vegas Raiders team 20-13 to remain alone atop the AFC East, and put up 422 yards against a solid defense.
But anyone who has watched the Dolphins all season came away feeling that something is lacking now with Mike McDaniel’s offense — particularly compared to what they put on tape early in the season.
The Dolphins turned the ball over three times, failed on their only fourth-down try, missed a field goal, and had just two red-zone trips (scoring a touchdown on one of them). Most importantly, they were held under 30 points for the first time at home all season.
And the most alarming part?
The Dolphins, for the better part of a month, have looked more like the offense that we saw Sunday than the group that was on a record pace a month ago.
Miami Dolphins Offense Is in a Rut
Since Week 7, the Dolphins have averaged 20.5 points per game, 5.5 yards per play, and 3.9 yards per carry, managed 19.3 first downs per game, have converted just 31.3% of their third downs, and have turned the ball over seven times.
Each one of those stats is below their season average — suggesting three things:
- The Dolphins are playing worse against better defenses.
- Teams might be figuring the Dolphins out schematically.
- The Dolphins will struggle to beat the best teams in the playoffs if things don’t change.
“I see it as more self-inflicted things that we do — turning the ball over, not being able to convert on downs that we should be converting on,” Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa Sunday said after throwing for 325 yards on 28 of 39 passing with two touchdowns but two turnovers.
“But then again, these are good teams. All these teams are in the NFL. The NFL is a tough place to play football, and we’ll take this win, and we’ll learn from this.”
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) November 19, 2023
Tagovailoa was characteristically tough on himself for his two giveaways, saying:
“I have a standard for myself just like everyone in here has a standard for themselves with how they go about doing their job, and I take pride in doing my job. And for me, if I’m not doing my job to the best of my abilities and to be the best in the league doing it, I shouldn’t be out there doing it.”
That’s good leadership on Tua’s part, but the truth is he has not been the problem over the last month.
Even though his numbers are down a tick or two, he still has completed 68% of his passes, averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, and has a passer rating of 95.4 in the Dolphins’ last four games. (His pick Sunday, per Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, was due to a miscommunication between him and Jaylen Waddle on an option route.)
The Dolphins’ biggest problem over the last month — Sunday included — was their inability to get out of their own way. In addition to the turnovers (which included a fumble by Julian Hill), the Dolphins couldn’t execute on 4th-and-1 deep in Vegas territory that took points off the board.
The Dolphins traveled inside the Raiders’ 40 six times but came away without points on two of them.
Teams in recent weeks have largely taken away the Dolphins’ home-run ball and instead have dared them to string together long drives. Given the Dolphins’ propensity to commit self-inflicted wounds, it’s a smart play.
“I look at a game like this: It’s not necessarily a bad game; it’s a game that we came up a little short,” McDaniel said. “I wouldn’t see any consistency with that in terms of like a pattern. How many yards did we have? I mean, that’s hard to do.
“Again, we’ll always be super critical. To call it a bad game, I think would be — I guess hats off to us for raising your standard. But I was really happy with the way the guys approached coming off the bye. I think you learn a lot about people — how they handle — you probably learn more how they handle failures than successes, and I thought guys were intentional and deliberate to another level this week.
“I think that our team, in general, has kind of captured the idea of worrying about ourselves, and each opponent is very threatening, and you have to bring your best. I think there is some stuff that we’ll really see in the film in the run game that we could have had more in.
“They were just kind of playing soft and really, really wide. Their alignments were different. There was some space there, and I thought we could have had more, but overall, I’d just like to see us hang on to the ball and not have some of the mistakes that really kind of cost us.
“But it was the first game that I can remember not playing with Durham Smythe, and we lost [De’Von] Achane early, and Braxton [Berrios] wasn’t up, so I thought overall guys in different roles stepped up, and we’ll continue to progress.”
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